August 28, 2007
No joy in mudville
Posted by: Chris
This time around it was years in coming. As you no doubt heard yesterday after Roll Coll broke the story, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig pled guilty to lewd conduct a month ago after he was arrested by an undercover officer in June in a public restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.
The gay and leftie blogosphere is, of course, gleeful, as is practically every gay person I've talked to in the early hours after the scandal broke. I understand the indignation that rises up each time we see one of these "family values" types go down in flames. I just don't understand why we don't see the contradictions in how we cheer on the politics of personal destruction, however self-inflicted.
Even in the early hours of the Larry Craig scandal, a few angles to this story give me pause. First and foremost, was Senator Craig really guilty of lewd conduct? I'm no defender of public sex or public lewdness, but so far as I can see he engaged in neither. According to the arrest report, an undercover police officer whose unhappy task it was to sit for long periods in an airport toilet stall noticed that a man later identified as Craig was peeking through the crack over a period of two minutes while "fidgeting" his hands. (Craig said later he was waiting for an empty stall; one of many points the officer disputes.)
Once Craig was seated in the stall next to the officer, the senator put his roller bag against the front door of the stall. "My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall," Sgt. Karsnia of the airport police wrote in his arrest report. I guess those who use the bathroom "for its intended use," as Karsnia puts it in the report, choose to store their luggage in some more convenient location within the stall…?
Craig then "tapped his foot," reported Karsnia, who "recognized this as a signal by those who wish to engage in lewd conduct." I'll leave it to you whether there might be one or two or 13 more innocent explanations for such behavior.
Finally, Craig's foot tapping crept over into Karsnia's stall and even made contact with Karsnia's foot. Craig then swiped his hand a few times under the stall divider, enough that Karsnia could see his fingers and even his gold wedding ring — a point Karsnia made sure to include in his report.
Based on this and this alone, Craig was arrested for lewd conduct. Now I'll admit to being much more naive than Sgt. Karsnia about the etiquette of toilet sex, but exactly how was this lewd? Strange? Yes. Annoying? Absolutely. Lewd? Explain that to me again.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that Craig was somehow crudely indicating his sexual interest in Karsnia. The Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas decision that sex between consenting adults is constitutionally protected. Many states have correctly concluded that, as a result, solicitation of sodomy or other forms of sex, even when the conversation takes place in public, is also constitutionally protected. If conduct is constitutionally protected, then we have a First Amendment right to discuss it.
That protection falls by the wayside, as well it should, if Craig was not just soliciting a private sex act in a public place but actually intended for the sex itself to take place in public. Nowhere does the arrest report explain to us how Sgt. Krasnia made that leap of logic based on Craig's foot-tapping and hand-swiping.
The arrest report does indicate that Craig was late for a flight, so it may well have been some odd form of quickie was what was on his mind. But it also reported that Craig identified himself as a regular commuter through the airport, so another explanation might be that he wanted to set up some later rendezvous.
Yes, I know that Craig pled guilty to the charge, and it's on that point where he most clearly hoisted himself on his own petard. He was so afraid of how things would look that he lacked the nerve to defend himself and his rights — just as over the course of his life he lacked the nerve to accept his sexual orientation (whether bisexual or homosexual) and defend the rights of those who share those orientations.
The saddest part of the Larry Craig scandal to me is that it will only encourage and energize those who troll the sex lives of politicians in search of juicy slime to spread — as if that somehow makes the case for our equality. As for me, I don't favor arguing I have a right to privacy in my choice of sexual partners by invading that right in others, even if they are our opponents, and even if they are hypocrites.
We should take no joy in the ruin of Larry Craig's marriage and reputation — even if it is well deserved and a long time in coming. The man has known for two years now he was under intense scrutiny for rumors that he's gay and has sex in public toilets. Not since Bill Clinton have we been treated to a public figure so compulsively unable to control the little head with the big one.
But you won't find me arguing that somehow Larry Craig's self-destruction is an argument for my own equality. I can think of about 533 more effective arguments we could make that don't require someone else's ruin or suggest we all share some general (im)moral equivalence. Gay Americans are entitled to equal treatment and protection against discrimination whether or not every member of Congress who voted against gay rights has an utterly umblemished sexual history.
If Larry Craig really does troll public toilets for sex, it doesn't prove his "family values" rhetoric is claptrap anymore than Bill Clinton's infidelity proved his support for gay rights was the product of his promiscuity. The case for gay rights is compelling enough on its own merits. Let's not jump in the mud and join in the muckraking.
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